by Alan Hollinghurst
At long last, a new book from Alan Hollinghurst (b. 1954), a gay British novelist, poet, professor and editor who lives in London. His first four books, written over a span of almost 20 years, form a quartet that explores gay life in England, past and present. The Swimming-Pool Library (1988), his sex-drenched first book, mapped the gay world before and after the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which decriminalized homosexuality in Britain. The Folding Star (1994) was a disturbing study of pederastic desire, in which a 33-year-old male tutor had a romanticized sexual obsession with one of his male high school students. The Spell (1998) was a sex-and-drugs-fueled comedy of manners. The Line Of Beauty, which won the Booker Prize in 2004, was a dark comedy exposing the hypocrisy of Thatcher-era England in the 1980s, tackling the thorny issue of AIDS. The Line of Beauty was made into a highly regarded 3-part TV mini-series in 2006.
Those four books, obviously influenced by Henry James, Evelyn Waugh, E.M. Forster and F. Scott Fitzgerald, are a set of theme and variations: hidden histories, young men's rites of passage, the compulsion of desire, the fragility and perplexity of gay love and romance.
“Bloody-hell, this is good! . . . Punctuated by abrupt and jagged turns of fate, skillfully redolent of life lived forwards, this story is fabulously involving and rich. It’s also very funny, in a dry and forgiving way. The silky precision of its prose . . . is matched by the mimetic completeness of its fictional world. This is an exercise in realism of a dazzlingly high order: it really does seem to be observed rather than imagined. The touches of extraneous detail are unobtrusive, concrete and exact. It is an extraordinary achievement.” — Sam Leith, The Spectator (UK)
Synopsis: The Stranger's Child is a century-spanning saga about a love triangle that continues across generations. In 1913, George Sawle brings charming, handsome Cecil Valance to his family’s modest home outside London for a summer weekend. George is enthralled by his Cambridge schoolmate, and soon his sixteen-year-old sister, Daphne, is equally besotted by Cecil, as she thrives on the stories he tells about the country estate he is heir to. But the poem that Cecil writes in Daphne’s autograph album will change their lives forever; after Cecil is killed in WW I and his reputation burnished, the poem will be recited by every schoolchild in England. This poem, supposedly written to a girl, is actually addressed to a boy and contains a hidden text within it, a forbidden love. Over time, a tragic love story is spun, even as secrets lie buried, until decades later an ambitious biographer threatens to unearth them.
In the nearly hundred years of time spanned by this novel, even the word for homosexual is referenced with historical accuracy. In the section that takes place in 1913, the word “sodomite” is used, true to the period. Next, the word “bugger” (very much a Bloomsbury word) comes into play in the section set in the 1920s – and so on through the term “queer,” and finally “gay.”
The Stranger’s Child was published in June in Britain and
Here’s the first 10 minutes of the BBC mini-series. There’s already a temptation scene (a generous dash of shirtless male flesh) at the 5:15 mark, followed by several awkward moments dishing with the sister, who takes it upon herself to set up her gay male house guest with a date, in this case a black man. Fairly typical of British writers, who seem obsessed with relationships that portray intrigues of race and class distinctions. What you can’t discern from the mini-series is the craft with which Hollinghurst writes. Read one of his books.